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Dunkirk

In the summer of 1940, everything went wrong. The British Expeditionary Forces landed in France and began to take up fighting positions at the start of World War II. The French heavily relied on the Maginot Line. A line of armed fortifications built to prevent any kind of invasion along the Switzerland, Germany, and Luxembourg borders. German forces unexpectedly went through the “impenetrable Ardennes Forest” an area that was only lightly fortified. In five days, the Germans captured the city of Sedan and headed west. This flanking maneuver cut off the entire Allied Army. More than 350,000 soldiers were surrounded with their backs to the sea at a port town called Dunkirk.

German forces were now on their way and had the ability to wipe out the entire British Army.  When it seemed certain that the Allied forces at Dunkirk would be encircled and annihilated, a British naval officer only had time to send a quick cable.  He sent three words to London, “But if not.”

These poignant words were immediately recognized as the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Book of Daniel. These men were given a choice:  they could worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar made or be thrown into the fiery furnace.

Daniel 3:17-18 shares their response:  “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

They bravely chose the furnace, rather than disobeying God. The message of these three words told in Daniel 3:18 were clear.  Even though the situation was desperate and the Army was trapped, they would not give in.

One Bible verse and three tiny words communicated a giant message. It also brought about the most unorthodox and successful rescue campaign known in the modern era. The British Navy ordered fishing vessels, yachts, and any civilian watercraft longer than 30 feet in length to report and join the naval rescue effort. The flotilla consisted of over 850 civilian and military vessels with owners and crews, ready to launch across the channel.

Just as the German General was ready to attack the surrounded city, Hitler ordered him to stop at the outskirts of Dunkirk. The German command wanted forces to continue south with their invasion of France, instead of pushing into Dunkirk. This coincidence and several days of cloudy weather gave the “Little ships of Dunkirk” and regular military boats 9 full days to rescue over 338,000 men.

Today, we call this naval rescue mission “The Miracle of Dunkirk” and it began with three simple words from Daniel 3:18.

 

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